Student theatre is an easy sell for the families and friends of the performers who can be counted upon to attend and applaud no matter what. The quality of performance in Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational Institute’s production of The Canterbury Tales rose well beyond that forgiving formula. This production has fun, energy, some sharp characterizations, a thoroughly engaging cast, and some wonderful emerging talent. The performers projected a palette of wit and nuance that provided a delightful experience for this reviewer.
The chorus and solo vocal work was impressive, and while most performances were quite credible, some were really outstanding. Vanessa Luis already has a voice with character; it has clarity and projection both singing and speaking that carried superbly on its own from the stage and in the house. Her confidence and skill were evident and really injected life into her sensual and outgoing Wife of Bath. She was a delight. James Hardiment has a raw vocal talent that with work promises to be amazing: his post of the word “kiss” as he was walking through the audience was impressive and pure, and he also demonstrated comic delivery with his solo later in the show when he was supported by some strong ensemble playing, where the reactions of the cast combined with his delivery to turn a serious beginning into a strong funny ending to the song. Nick Merizzi’s multiple and intense characters were a source of glee for this reviewer, especially when he seemed to be channelling Jim Carry.
There were many moments of delight in this production; for example the love van transitions from pub to pub: strong choral work together with the exuberance of the ensemble were a hit with the audience. And there were striking individual transitions such as Doug MacFarlane’s wonderful shift from rickety old new husband to amorous hot Carribean singer, and Brittany Doll’s fun transition from horrible old crone to sensual young wife — and that is not a spoiler, as I think everyone in the audience gets it first.
The physical acting yielded its pleasures, too: Courtney Riviere was a delight to watch as she inhabited her roles with such physical grace and expression. Her costume was lovely and well suited to her flowing movements, particularly as the Queen, and her comic takes in the discovery scene are great fun. Bruce Megill is a firm presence onstage and took control of the action with an ease that suggests he has a future in the public eye. He seemed most at ease horizontal, and made an impressive opening to the action, lounging on the couch.
Some other notables were Steve Andre’s cool Elvis/King, Victoria Ellam’s soft presence as the intense Prioress, particularly her subtle facial work, Brandon Rainey (whose shtick grew on me as the action developed), Chris Meister’s restrained but effective “drunk” work, Justin Bellmore’s comically extreme reluctance to kiss the old crone, Jocelyn Jacques’ flirty hippy character with the heart on her cheek, Andrea Torrance, who could light up the stage when she turned on her character, Sarah Piscuniari’s (what a wonderful face she has!) and Kevin McBain’s reactive and listening abilities–not to be taken lightly, as these skills, while not flashy, are what makes the stage ambiance work, and constitute a significant part of generating a scene, and all too often overlooked in student theatre. Curtis Clarke’s approach to the resolution of the enmity between the Miller and the Carpenter worked because of the swing in tone that he was able to evoke. Aliya Abdhul-Rahim made her single line garner a good laugh– I have immense respect for actors who are onstage through almost the whole action, with few lines, who are able to stay in character and help make everything work; I include Thomas Lla and Ross Lafrance in that comment as well.
I was especially impressed by the comfort with which the cast handled what I would have thought would be quite difficult, even embarrassing, material for high school students. The subject of Chaucer’s narratives is quite bawdy, but this cast carried it off with complete ease. The cast was able comfortably to shift comfortably from humorously depicting the behaviour of two obviously gay characters to broad farce with bawdy anatomical predicaments. As well, they kept up the pace of the show: with an ensemble cast and a show as complex as this, it is easy for the story to bog down in transitions and character confusions; but that was never the case here as the story moved swiftly along with only the occasional very brief hiccup.
Considering the very limited lighting resources of this venue, the lighting script was ingenious, and even often contributed and emotional element, as for example the coming of dawn, which set up the hilarious and unstinting crow of the rooster, or in one case, the unrelenting serenade of the bagpipes. (I must confess to some bias here, as I am a great fan of the Scottish war pipes, but am sympathetic to the humorous elements of loud pipes at hungover dawn.)
The costumes varied considerably; yet that was a characteristic of the sixties in which this action is set. Most outstanding was Hardiment’s turquoise suit, which would have worked better had the colour been repeated elsewhere. The black of the religious costumes, while traditional, tends to conflict with the comic emotional elements in the piece, and might better be dark versions of particular hues like burgundy or claret. Cost is a significant factor, of course in costuming a production; however, it is well to have a colour scheme in mind when designing the visual emotional elements. The same goes for the set, which was mainly black, relieved only by occasional set pieces such as the tree with its clever cutouts, and the various furnishings, particularly the ingenious beds, and a few properties and projected backgrounds. I must say that the wonderful bus made up for a lot of the colour problems with the set.
Although I did not participate in the meal, several audience members commented that the meal that preceded the Thursday production was excellent. Congratulations to the CCVS Hospitality program.
It is too bad that this production has but three performances: it runs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of a single week. I hope word of mouth is sufficient to fill the CCVS Cafetorium tonight.
Performance reviewed: June 4, 2009, 7:15 pm. Running time: 2:40, including one ten minute intermission.
My thanks to Bill Roddy for helping me with character identification.
The Canterbury Tales
Music by Richard Hill John Hawkins
Book by Martin Starkie & Nevill Coghill
(Based on a translation from Chaucer by Nevill Coghill)
Lyrics by Nevill Coghill
Featuring Students from the CCVS Drama and Vocal Departments
Host…. Bruce Megill
Wife of Bath….Vanessa Luis
Merchant….. Kevin McBain
Knight….. Justin Belmore
Steward….. Ross Lafrance
Clerk of Oxford… Nick Merizzi
Friar…… Brandon Rainey
Summoner…. Steven Andre
The Characters in the Tale told by the pilgrims
The Miller’s Tale (The Miller -Chris Meister)
Alison….. Sarah Pisciunari
The Carpenter…..Curtis Clark
Robin….. Brandon Rainey
The Two Parishioners….Courtney Riviere, Andrea Torrance
The Steward’s Tale (The Steward – Ross Lafrance)
Miller’s Wife…Courtney Riviere
The Merchant’s Tale (The Merchant – Kevin McBain)
Bridemaids……..Sarah Pisciunari, Courtney Riviere, Aliya Abdhul-Rahim
The Wife of Bath’s Tale (Wife of Bath – Vanessa Luis)
Young Knight…Justin Belmore.
Old woman…Brittany Doll
Ladies….Andrea Torrance, Jocelyn Jacques, Sarah Pisciunari, Aliya Abdhul-Rahim
Producer: Ms. Heather Gallinger
Director: Mr. Robert Poirier
Musical Director: Ms. Heather Gallinger
Accompanist and Musical Advisor: Ms. Christine Hickey
Stage Managers: Mrs. Brie Wheeler, Ms. Christie Stewart
Costumes: Mrs. Brie Wheeler, Mrs. Sandra Kenny, Mrs. Leslie Ellam, Victoria Ellam, Mrs. Tanya Sauve
Props and sets: Mrs. Sandra Kenny, Mrs. Judy Stewart, Mrs. Brie Wheeler, Mrs. Lesley Elllam, Mrs. Tanya Sauve
Lighting: Mr. Robert Poirier
Sound and Effects: Mr. Stuart Prevost, Ryan Acheson
Marketing and Publicity: Mrs. Judy Bobka, CCVS Special Education Students, Ms. Heather Gallinger
Poster, Ticket, Program and Ad design: Mrs. Lesley Ellam
House Manager: Mrs. Donna Brushey
Ticket Sales: Mrs. Christie Stewart, CCVS Secretarial Staff, Logan’s Gallery, Melody Music Centre
Hair and Makeup: Mrs. Aline Brush and CCVS Hairstyling and Aesthetics Students
Dinner Theatre Co-ordinator: Mrs. Judy Stewart, Chef John Ciampaglia and the CCVS Hospitality Students